Vale Gordon Spearritt, 1925-2016

27 Jan 2016
Gordon Spearritt at the 1970 Alumni Reunion

It is with great sadness that we in the School of Music learned of the passing of Gordon Donald Spearritt, on Tuesday 19 January 2016. Gordon's role in the musical life of the University of Queensland and its (then) Faculty of Music was nothing short of fundamental, having served as both the Dean (1974–78) and later Head of Department (1980–85).

Born in Bundaberg, 30 January 1925, Gordon initially trained as a teacher and served in this role in North Queensland before a stint in the R.A.A.F. during the final years of the Second World War. Seeking further education and opportunity, he obtained his Bachelor of Music from the University of Melbourne in 1950. Upon his return to Brisbane in the same year, Gordon became involved in the curricular and extra-curricular life of the University of Queensland. Enrolling in a B.A., which he finished in 1953, Gordon became the deputy director of the Queensland University Musical Society (Q.U.M.S.), out of which he formed the University Madrigal Singers, which he directed for some twenty years.

Gordon was appointed to the full-time staff of the University of Queensland in 1957 as a Junior Lecturer in Music, working at this institution until his retirement exactly thirty years later. His work at this time also involved examinations for the A.M.E.B, including much travel across the state as an examiner and the production of elementary theory books for the use of remote music teachers. In 1964–65 he completed, on sabbatical, an M.A. at Harvard as part of a Fulbright Award and Harvard University Scholarship, with a thesis on Renaissance English Vocal Music.

In the late 1960s Gordon was instrumental in the curriculum design for the University of Queensland's new B.Mus degree and B.A. Music double major. It was also during this time that Gordon set about expanding the music collection of the University Library, working with the University Librarian, Derek Fielding, to introduce a range of periodical subscriptions, collected editions, scores, and other resources. The wide recognition that the current Architecture-Music Library at the University of Queensland holds for having probably the best institutional music research collection in Australia today is testament to Gordon's vision. In 1972 he was promoted to Reader.

The year 1972 also witnessed the beginnings of his burgeoning interest in music of the Asia-Pacific region and his credentials as an ethnomusicologist. His first of many field trips to Papua New Guinea took place at this time. In 1980, he defended his Ph.D., the first awarded in the field of music at the University of Queensland, on the music of the Iatmul people of the Middle Sepik River, a subject on which he became a leading expert.

Gordon was National Vice-President of the Australian Society for Music Education (1971–74); he was National President of the Musicological Society of Australia (M.S.A.) in 1978 and served as Chair of the M.S.A. Queensland Chapter (now M.S.A.Q.) over the years 1984–86. He was a committee member of the Queensland branch of Musica Viva (including a four-year stint as President) and a Council Member of the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. In 1982 he was made a Fellow of the Queensland Conservatorium and was awarded Honorary Life Membership of the M.S.A. in 1989.

In 1992, the Festschrift, Sound and Reason: Music and Essays in Honour of Gordon D. Spearritt, was published by the Faculty of Music, edited by Warren Bebbington (then Dean of the Faculty).

Following his retirement, Gordon continued to remain an active supporter of musicological life in Queensland. His generous, ongoing financial donations which commenced in 1999 supported an award for the best student presentation at the annual M.A.S.Q. symposium, which the M.S.A.Q. committee named in his honour (the Gordon Spearritt Prize). He also presented the inaugural M.S.A.Q. Annual Lecture in 2002, entitled, with typical self-effacement, "Ramblings of an Ethnomusicologist." The MSA fittingly recognised Gordon's life-long contribution to music research through its conferral of the inaugural Don and Joan Squire Award for Voluntary Services to Musicology in Australia, in 2008.

In addition to his numerous recognised achievements, perhaps the most outstanding aspect of Gordon Spearritt's contribution to the musical life of this nation will be found in the many, many people he mentored throughout his career, a great many who continued on to forge significant careers, and all of whom will remember him as a most generous teacher, demanding of the highest standards yet ever supportive and encouraging. No one, it seems, who has had anything to do with Gordon Spearritt can find anything other than the utmost praise for the scholar and the warmest affection for the man. I myself did not come into contact with him during his professional career, but I count myself fortunate indeed to have got to know him through the activities of the MSA over the last 25 years or so.

Gordon was one of those rare individuals who did not stretch the cliché of the Renaissance man. He will be greatly missed.

Dr Simon Perry